This week at the station

This week at Macquarie Island: 20 December 2013

Macca Gallery - Merry Christmas

All the folk at Macquarie Island would like to wish everyone a Very Merry Christmas and have a wonderful New Year.

We look forward to bringing you more stories in 2014.


Merry Christmas from all at Macca. Image shows gentoo penguins on a snow covered bubbly beach with the heavily snow covered escarpment in the background and the words 'Merry Christmas' written on sky and 'Macquarie Island 2013' written on a black border below the picture
Merry Christmas from all at Macca
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)

Steve reminisces on his 600+ days on Macca

Six hundred days on the island clicked over for me a couple of days ago. I depart on the Aurora Australis early next week heading for home via Casey Station then Hobart and onto New Zealand.

My time here started in March 2012 with pre-departure training and Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project (MIPEP) training in Hobart. I was arriving on the island to work as a dog handler in the second ground hunting year of the rabbit eradication. I am leaving having spent the second half of my stint here as the Eradication Team Leader, working with a great group of people in year three, striving for certainty that we have indeed removed the last rabbit and searching for proof of absence with the rodent populations that once plagued Macquarie Island.

The island has become home over that time, the weather an integral part of the existence, most of the people have changed, and the animals have cycled through their breeding phases for second time since I have been here. The speed of the natural events appears heightened, experiences that I have appreciated even more so this time around, noticing details previously missed.

The arrival of the first bull elephant seals was all too rapidly replaced by the weaning of the pups and the departure of the females. The beaches having filled up with seals in September were again empty by the end of November apart from the weaned pups above the tide line. As the juvenile and adolescent elephant seals arrive back on shore to moult and slop around in mud-filled wallows, relieving their itchiness, the weaned pups are discovering the joys of weightlessness, lolling about in the inshore waters at dawn and dusk, having known only the restrictions of being a heavy seal on land. They will soon face the threat of the Orca that patrol the shores and make a long journey to the continental shelf. Five weeks with mum and life from there on in is up to them.

Heading back to the ocean on my own voyage will encounter some changes and challenges as well as reflection on an amazing experience. Twenty odd months without mobile phone culture, irregular contact with the outside world and life in a close knit community, my perspective will take some adjusting once I get home. No longer will the commute to work include negotiating penguin traffic and seal log jams on a beach nor will I get to experience washing from a bucket outside a plateau hut in a 20 knot Northwesterly for a while.

I am sure I will look back fondly on the simplicity of working in the field where life boils down to – food, hunting, warmth and sleep. Where entertainment consists of the joy of a good book, a game of cards and a meal and a laugh shared with brothers in arms.

The MIPEP project has been a wonderful chance to get to know the island during the day and at night. To meet and know a wonderful mix of people, to experience the Sub-Antarctic and to see firsthand the impacts of introduced species on the concentrated ecosystem that exists here, an island that serves as a breeding base for a huge area of the Southern Ocean.

Equally it has been rewarding over the past two years to see the signs of recovery. New patches of tussock (Poa foliosa) and cabbage (Stilbocarpa polaris), and the fields of another mega-herb, Pleurophyllum hookeri, carpeting sections of the island. The teams I have worked with have been outstanding in their commitment to the cause. We have travelled over 79,000 kms in the three years of ground hunting to date, (nearly twice around the earth) searching for sign of rabbits and rodents and spent thousands of hours hunting at night with the spotlight, admiring the occasional aurora along the way.

The project has been well supported by the Australian Antarctic Division on the island and in Hobart and I leave as a proud team member. Thanks to everyone in the two teams I have worked with for their friendship and commitment. All the best for the remaining few months and I look forward to the day when we can celebrate the achievements of our collective time here.

Until next time....

Stephen Horn (written just before departure on the 14th of December 2013)

On the Aurora Australia heading to Macquarie Island. On the upper deck the setting sun illuminates the ship's name
On the Aurora Australia heading to Macquarie Island
(Photo: Stephen Horn)
Arriving at Macca in March 2012. Steve dressed in wet weather gear and wearing a life jacket, stands on the deck of a LARC  which is taking him from the Aurora Australis, in the background, to the shores of the island
Arriving at Macca in March 2012
(Photo: Stephen Horn)
A black and white photo of the dog kennels in front of the fuel farm. The fuel tanks have the big letters painted on them spelling MACQUARIE ISLAND
The dog kennels in front of the fuel farm
(Photo: Stephen Horn)
View from Wireless Hill to the south over the snow covered escarpment
View from Wireless Hill
(Photo: Stephen Horn)
Another Day at the office. The image shows four of the hunters and dog handlers with four of the dogs standing on a snow covered landscape somewhere on the plateau. All the hunters are wearing yellow rain jackets and dark over pants and are each carrying a pack and walking pole
Another day at the office
(Photo: Stephen Horn)
Ange and Karen sitting on a gentle slope, having lunch, just above Soucek Bay.
Ange and Karen at Soucek Bay
(Photo: Stephen Horn)
Flax the dog's nose closeup
Flax's nose, closeup
(Photo: Stephen Horn)
Gratitude Rendez-vous. Five of the MIPEP team, including five dogs, converge on the snow covered plateau towards Gratitude lake in the background
Gratitude Lake rendez-vous
(Photo: Stephen Horn)
Katie, the springer spaniel sits on a grassy slope next to a pack, silhouetted against the setting sun at Cape Star
Katie and pack, sunset Cape Star
(Photo: Stephen Horn)

V2/3 summer insertion

It has been with eager anticipation that the winter crew of 2013 awaited the arrival of the Aurora Australis (AA), with estimated arrival dates coming and going due to Voyage 1's longer than expected re-supply of Davis. To finally see the old girl anchored in Buckles Bay ½ a day early was to set the tone for the following days of V2/3s part re-supply.

By 1200 hours the ship had LARCs' at the stand by, inflatable rubber boats (IRBs) lining the beach, machinery checked and inspected, 13 rooms made up for the incoming personnel and  20+ happy smiley  faces going about all the other final checks and cross checks to make sure all was in readiness.

Six LARC loads later dear old Macca delivered its own style of greeting in the form of 40 knot winds and rain putting an end to the jump start that we had taken advantage of.

Sunday morning dawned a new day and at around 5am when most on station rose, we were greeted with blue skies low wind and the AA back in the bay. By 1830 some 70+ inbound consignments had been landed and 60 Return to Australia (RTA) cage pallets transferred to the AA to be dealt with back in Hobart.

As always with the arrival of the AA there are friends departing as well as the ones coming in; we had five expeditioners leave. Three scientists, Grant, Ingrid and Natalie had a bonus extra week to do their Macca projects after they arrived on the L'Astrolabe only 6 weeks ago. The MIPEP supervisor Steven Horn had been here for almost two years and then there was our FTO Marty Benavente who had trained us back in Kingston and travelled down on Voyage 4 with the rest of the winter crew back in February this year. The other extra bonus for all these travellers was the trip south to do the re-supply at Casey something they never thought they would ever have the opportunity to doing, (going to Antarctica that is, not the Casey re-supply) making the extra time away from family and friends a lot easier to except. Each of the outgoing crew where issued a 'care' package to help them survive the long voyage home.

Congratulations to all involved with the visit of the AA, both on the ship and onshore for making it a safe, effective and efficient transfer of all the cargo and personnel.

All the best for the remainder of the voyage from all of us on the sponge!

David Brett

Natalie with her 'care' package which consisted of a track marker and goodies wrapped in a tea towel attached to one end
Natalie with her 'care' package
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Steve with his 'care' package which consisted of a track marker and goodies wrapped in a tea towel attached to one end. Sitting next to Steve on the couch is Karen and Clive
Steve with his 'care' package
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Grant with his 'care' package which consisted of a track marker and goodies wrapped in a tea towel attached to one end
Grant with his 'care' package
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Marty with his 'care' package which consisted of a track marker and goodies wrapped in a tea towel attached to one end
FTO Marty with his 'care' package
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Ingrid with her 'care' package which consisted of a track marker and goodies wrapped in a tea towel attached to one end. Also sitting on the couch is Aaron
Ingrid with her 'care' package
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
At Landing Beach - The departing expeditioners getting ready to board an IRB. In the foreground are three large gentoo chicks on a small rocky and grass covered ridge, while in the distant background the Aurora Australis sits well offshore
At Landing Beach - The departing expeditioners getting ready to board an…
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Arrival of the summer expeditioners at Landing Beach, all dressed in their yellow weather proof gear on the LARC 'Ian Allison". The LARC has just come ashore. There are also four crew on the LARC
Summer expeditioners arriving at Landing Beach
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Welcome to Macquarie Island - the summer expeditioner, dressed in their yellow weather-proof gear and life jackets, are helped off the LARC
Welcome to Macquarie Island
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Loaded LARC just entering the water at Landing Beach, on its way back to the Aurora Australis
Loaded LARC on its way back to the Aurora Australis
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
On a calm sea a LARC is along side the Aurora Australis, while one of the IRB's approaches
The loading and unloading continues
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
The last IRB trip out to the Aurora Australis (in the background). On board are the watercraft operators, including FTO Marty. A boat handler (Robbie) gives the thumbs up, while standing waist deep in the water
The last IRB trip out to the Aurora Australis
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)

An evening with the orcas

Last Thursday we were treated to a special event. A pod of six orcas came into view off Garden Cove. The word went out and soon nearly everyone on station was up at the Ham Shack for a better view.

We were not disappointed as the orcas carried out sorties close to the shore of Garden Cove.

It was a beautiful evening, with light wind, and a setting sun making almost perfect conditions for photography.

A couple of the orcas made runs for the weaners that were in the water and unaware of the danger that they were in. There were some lucky escapes, though at least a couple of the young seals were not so fortunate.

There was some decent photographic gear clicking away up on the deck of the Ham Shack. Some pretty good footage was also taken on video cameras.

Below are some of those images.

Close up of sun glint off the dorsal fin of a orca. The dorsal fin is the main method of identification of individual orcas
Sun glint off the dorsal fin of a orca. The dorsal fin…
(Photo: Lionel Whitehorn)
The shape and colours of the orca can be seen under the calm clear water of Garden Cove
Orca in the clear water of Garden Cove
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Orca breaks the surface as it chases a weaner. The image is a front on shot showing the snout and head of the orca above the water surface
Orca breaks the surface as it chases a weaner
(Photo: Kris Carlyon)
Coming up for air; a orca breaks the surface of crystal clear water and takes a breath as can be seen from the spray from its air hole
Coming up for air
(Photo: Lionel Whitehorn)
Swimming in tandem; a male (large dorsal fin) and female (smaller dorsal fin) swim alongside the rocks (in the foreground) below the Ham Shack
Swimming in tandem
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
The one that got away. The image shows a weaner (on the left) escaping from a orca, whose head and upper body are above the waters surface
The one that got away
(Photo: Kris Carlyon)
Another comes up for air. The image captures the front of the orca partially above the water, with moist air coming out of the blow hole and water splashing ahead
Another comes up for air
(Photo: Lionel Whitehorn)
A lone orca swims close to shore below thew Ham Shack. There is a orange/brown glint of the setting sun on the dorsal fin
Close to shore below thew Ham Shack
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Another breath (exhale) captured in this close-up image
(Photo: Kris Carlyon)